We all know that sinking feeling at the bottom of our stomachs when we realise that we’ve been lied to. The pain is even more when the person lying is someone we’d never have thought capable of it. Even on a much larger scale, it seems like we are plagued by every kind of dishonesty conceivable – fake news has inundated the internet, our politicians lie either overtly or by omission, and even businesses have gained a notorious reputation.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could nip it in the bud and spot a lie while the offending party is still trying to pull the wool over your eyes? Well, it turns out you can. Shivani Gupta, a professional behaviour science researcher based in Mumbai, says, “The science behind spotting lies and deception has evolved over the years; speech patterns, visible biometrics, body language and conversational cues can be watched out for,” says Gupta.
Here are some clues to look out for the next time you suspect someone of lying to you. With some practice, you should be able to spot a fib coming from a mile away. Before we get to that, however, we should address the elephant in the room.
Why Do People Lie?
According to Gupta, this is a rather tricky one: “The reward system at play with lies varies across situations and individuals. The biochemistry might appear the same, but the route varies depending on what situational and internal factors merge to elicit a dishonest response.” What this means is that lying isn’t simply the result of your brain finding a way out of a difficult situation of its own volition, but a conscious choice made by a person to be deceitful, perhaps in response to what he or she perceives as a threat or even to deal with whatever moral battle they may be undergoing at any given time.
Some people lie to gain advantage, while others do it to save face. There are even some who lie as a matter of course about mundane things that nobody really cares about. They’re called ‘white lies’ and while they may be seemingly harmless, doing it often could cause you to slip into the habit of perpetual lying. “Interestingly, a lot of people don’t even see themselves as liars, even though the average person tells about 12 lies a week,” says Gupta.
It is important to be wary of the perennial liar, for their body and mind gets more comfortable with lies over time, the more they habitually engage in it
Shivani Gupta, behaviour science researcher
Your Body Wants to Tell the Truth
“There are a few seemingly involuntary functions that change when a person is lying – breathing and pupil dilation, to name a few,” says Gupta. By learning to spot a person’s involuntary bodily giveaways, you can separate facts from fibs.
Pupil dilation, for instance, is a reliable indicator of lying since enlarged pupils signal that your brain is working very hard – remember all the movies you’ve seen where they show someone’s pupils enlarging rapidly to indicate surprise or that an information overload has taken place? Well, lying requires just as much brain power to come up with a plausible story. So, if someone’s telling you something sketchy and their pupils expand abnormally, chances are they’re lying. Similarly, someone who is lying to you may begin to breathe heavier than usual as they’re speaking. This is due to a change in their heart rate and blood flow, a natural side effect when you’re feeling nervous or tense – both common occurrences when lying. So, if someone seems a little out of breath as they’re telling you something, it could be that they’re trying to pull a quick one over you.
There are other commonplace signs that Gupta recommends you look out for, “A crafty liar is also aware of the awareness of others to spot their lies, so they counter this with diverting techniques. For instance, it’s common for them to stand very still and have very restricted movement (eyes and body) while telling a lie. A nervous liar on the other hand, will behave quite the opposite and possibly be shiftier and there will be visible unrest.”
Beware the Practised Liar
It’s key to note that there are different types of liars. Simply put, the two broad categories are habitual liars and people who lie only when they think it’s needed of them in that situation. And one is clearly worse than the other.
“The occasional liar often gives too much away because they’re literally writing a story in their head while speaking. A repeated lie on the other hand might be more well-crafted. Where the details of the lie have been tried, and tested, and the most believable, plausible, reasonable sounding statements are the ones that stick over time to form a stitched-up version of a story. It is important to be wary of the perennial liar, for their body and mind gets more comfortable with lies over time, the more they habitually engage in it. So, their biometrics are not as “alarmed” or perked up when they do lie,” warns Gupta.
Another interesting point to note is that the brain can be convinced of creating a false memory. The more details one adds to an event or experience that never occurred, the more believable it becomes to their own brain. So, they, too, will remember a very detailed well-crafted lie, which is coded as a ‘memory’ would be in their brain. Detecting a lie told this well is nigh impossible – after all, how do you tell whether someone is lying if they can barely make the distinction themselves?
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